After twelve hours of racing in a typical endurance race, a particular car or two usually emerges as pacestters. But halfway through this year's Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, the battle up front remains wide open. Five Daytona Prototypes are vying...
After twelve hours of racing in a typical endurance race, a particular car or two usually emerges as pacestters. But halfway through this year's Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, the battle up front remains wide open. Five Daytona Prototypes are vying for position, all on the lead lap, and all hoping to land in victory lane just twelve hours from now.
The No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley leads the way, completing 352 laps in the hands of Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty, Jimmie Johnson and Jimmy Vasser. The defending Rolex Series DP champions struggled with brake issues during practice and qualifying, but have enjoyed a near-perfect race so far.
"I had a great experience out there," Johnson said. "We have a great car. We're just really trying to stick to our rhythm. I tried not to put the car into any bad situations. Even doing that, I found myself in a sandwich with two Porsches. At first it didn't bother me because I'm use to the rubbing with the Sprint Cup car. Then I remember you can't touch people with these. There are some Martinsville doughnuts on the side of this thing right now and it is from yours truly."
Defending Rolex 24 race winners Chip Gansssi Racing runs second with its No. 01 entry. Co-drivers Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Dario Franchitti and Juan Pablo Montoya have steered the Lexus Riley to a relatively trouble-free run, with twelve hours complete.
Michael Shank Racing swept the front row in qualifying with its two Ford Rileys - with AJ Allmendinger dashing out to an early lead in the race. The No. 6 machine runs third midway through, with Allmendinger, Burt Frisselle, Ian James and John Pew sharing driving duties though the long and misty night.
Running fourth is the Penske-Taylor Racing entry of Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves and Kurt Busch. The No 9 Pontiac Riley suffered a tire puncture in the early running, losing a lap to the leaders. However, thanks to clever strategy by Roger Penske, the car quickly gained the lap back and has been in the thick of things ever since.
Rounding out the top five overall is the No. 91 Riley-Matthews Motorsports entry of Marc Goossens, Jim Matthews, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Johnny O'Connell. All five cars run on the lead lap, with two others just one lap behind.
While the top five teams have yet to hit any major problems, a number of other entries have already suffered their fare share of misfortunes.
One of the first frontrunners to hit trouble was the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing entry. Four and a half hours in, while on his out lap in damp conditions, Salvador Duran drove off into the grass, digging the nose of the Lexus Riley into the grass. The car suffered heavy front-end damage, costing the team ten laps while undergoing repairs in the garage. Things went from bad to worse late into the night when the car stopped on-track, bringing out a full-course caution. The entry is now 17 laps back from the leader and running in 15th overall.
AIM Autosport also enjoyed a strong run early on but was greeted with trouble during the night hours. The No. 61 Ford Riley ran solidly in the top three for much of the first quarter of the race until making a trip to the garage for service at the 7 hour, 30 minute mark. The team repaired the splitter and also replaced the front brakes. They suffered yet another setback nine hours in, when Brian Frisselle spun into the tire wall in Turn 3, bringing out a full course caution. The Canadian entry now runs 12th overall, eight laps behind.
Another surprise early on was the performance from the Alex Job Racing Porsche Crawford. The No. 23 entry led throughout much of the rain-soaked period of the race, making the right call at the right moment to go to rain tires. But a spin and a broken fan belt during the late evening cost the team some positions. The car has now rebounded to sixth, just one lap back to the leaders.
The No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley runs in ninth, after losing time due to an unexplained electrical problem at the six-hour mark. In the early hours, they too shined up front. Other notables include the No. 59 Brumos Porsche Riley in seventh and the No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus Riley up to eighth.
A number of DP teams have already called it quits after a tough first half of the race. Both of the Cheever Racing Pontiac Coyotes and SAMAX Pontiac Rileys have dropped out due to engine failures. The RVO Motorsports Pontiac Riley had a rotor explode in the early hours and the Matt Connolly Motorsports Pontiac Chase has made frequent trips in and out of the garage, as had the Sigalsport BMW Riley and Doran Racing Ford Doran.
Like the pacesetters in DP, there also hasn't been a clear cut GT leader in the first half of the race. The No. 07 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R of Paul Edwards, Kelly Collins, Jan Magnussen and Andy Pilgrim was credited as leaders at halfway but hit the pit wall and went to the garage for repairs shortly after the 12-hour mark.
"I hit the pit wall exiting the pits, but had no real damage," Edwards said. "I think we got a weird set of tires. My lap time predict was off by some three seconds, so I think we might have had a tire or wheel problem. On that set of tires the car was really unstable and quick to turn in."
Running second in GT was the No. 67 TRG Porsche of Spencer Pumpelly, Tim George Jr., Bryan Sellers, Romain Dumas and Emmanuel Collard. The car made great comeback, gaining back two laps that it lost in the first six hours.
"I knew that the only way we were going to get back into contention was to get that lap back," Pumpelly said. "With these rules, the only way to get the lap back is to just outdrive everybody. Kevin just said, 'We gotta go.' We had the track position, we were in front of the mess on the restart and I just tried to put them down. I'm pretty happy with every lap I turned and every corner I went through. It's a testament to the car and how good it's setup. I'm confident in all my teammates."
The No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 of Sylvain Tremblay, Nick Ham, David Haskell and Raphael Matos is in third, the first of the lap down cars to the class leader. The car paced the field as well and still runs in a solid position.
Dropping back to fourth was the No. 66 TRG Porsche, which has been battling ongoing overheating issues. Rounding out the top five was the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R, which is only two laps back from the leaders.
"We are just chugging along," Stevenson driver Gunnar Jeannette said. "It is tough when you get by the Porsches in the infield and then they just motor by you on the bank. We are sticking to our plan and keeping the wheels turning. The GXP.R has run trouble free so far and we are doing great."
Farnbacher Loles, which had two very quick Porsches early on, have had both entries drop outside the top five. The No. 86 entry of Wolf Henzler, Eric Lux, Leh Keen, Sascha Maassen and Jorg Bergmeister runs in seventh after a suffering a lengthy 12-minute pitstop to repair a broken control arm. The No. 87 car has fallen back to 13th after also leading early in the race.
With twelve hours still left in this 24-hour marathon, anything can still happen. The big question left to be answered is will a team take control of the race? Or will it come down to a four or five car battle to the checkers? The best may be yet to come.